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Islamic State Claims Credit for Nice Attack as Investigation Continues

The Islamic State’s news agency calls Nice attacker “soldier of the Islamic State,” though there’s not yet any indication the group played a role in directing or carrying out the attack.

A man stands on July 16, 2016 near flowers and candles placed in tribute to the victims of the deadly Bastille Day attack in Nice.
The Islamic State group claimed responsibility for the truck attack that killed 84 people in Nice on France's national holiday, a news service affiliated with the jihadists said on July 16. Tunisian Mohamed Lahouaiej-Bouhlel, 31, smashed a 19-tonne truck into a packed crowd of people in the Riviera city celebrating Bastille Day -- France's national day. / AFP / GIUSEPPE CACACE        (Photo credit should read GIUSEPPE CACACE/AFP/Getty Images)
A man stands on July 16, 2016 near flowers and candles placed in tribute to the victims of the deadly Bastille Day attack in Nice. The Islamic State group claimed responsibility for the truck attack that killed 84 people in Nice on France's national holiday, a news service affiliated with the jihadists said on July 16. Tunisian Mohamed Lahouaiej-Bouhlel, 31, smashed a 19-tonne truck into a packed crowd of people in the Riviera city celebrating Bastille Day -- France's national day. / AFP / GIUSEPPE CACACE (Photo credit should read GIUSEPPE CACACE/AFP/Getty Images)

As French authorities continue to investigate whether the Islamic State had any command or control over Thursday’s deadly truck attack in Nice, which left 84 dead and more than 200 injured, the terrorist group issued a claim of responsibility on Saturday.

French authorities have identified the attacker as Mohamed Lahouaiej Bouhlel, 31, a Tunisia-born French resident who intentionally drove a tractor-trailer into a crowd of civilians celebrating Bastille Day and then opened fire on them before he was shot and killed by police.

Saturday’s claim of responsibility in an English-language statement issued by Amaq, the group’s self-described news agency, said Bouhlel was a “soldier of the Islamic State.”

“He executed the operation in response to calls to target citizens of coalition nations, which fight the Islamic State,” the statement said.  

SITE Intelligence Group, which monitors jihadi group messaging, said the Islamic State also broadcasted its claim of responsibility on its radio station, Al Bayan, warning that “crusader states” are not safe from the group.

French authorities have still not produced any evidence to back up the Islamic State’s claim to have played a role in the attack, the third such carried out on French soil in the past 18 months.

The group has leapt to claim responsibility for various attacks before, seeking to capitalize on lone-wolf terrorists as an opportunity to inflate their capabilities to conduct terrorism, particularly in Western countries. And counterterrorism officials have expressed concern that despite U.S.-led coalition gains against the group in Iraq and Syria, which have prompted a loss of control over territory and resources, the group will launch more attacks in Europe and, potentially, the United States.

The Islamic State has called on sympathizers to target civilians in the countries that make up the coalition — calls that have been answered with a deadly result, particularly in France.

While French authorities have said Bouhlel had a criminal record, including a weapons charge as recently as January, he was not on any watch lists for terrorism or radicalization. He was “completely unknown by intelligence services, both at the national and local levels,” François Molins, the French prosecutor who oversees terrorism investigations, said in a press conference on Friday.

But on Saturday, French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said for the first time that investigators believe the attacker, who had been living in Nice for at least six years, was “radicalized” — and quickly.

He “radicalized his views very rapidly,” Cazeneuve said Saturday, citing initial findings of the investigation after interviews with the attacker’s acquaintances but providing no additional details. “We are now facing individuals who are responding positively to the messages issued by the Islamic State without having had any special training and without having access to weapons that allow them to commit mass murder.”

Photo credit: GIUSEPPE CACACE/AFP/Getty Images

Molly O’Toole is a senior reporter at Foreign Policy, covering immigration, refugees, and national security. She was FP’s sole 2016 presidential campaign reporter, on the trail from New Hampshire to Nevada. Previously, she covered the politics of national security for Atlantic Media’s Defense One, where she reported from Congress, the White House, the Pentagon, and the State Department. Before that, she was a news editor at the Huffington Post. Molly has also reported on national and international politics for Reuters, the Nation, The Associated Press, and Newsweek International, among others, from Washington, New York, Mexico City, and London. She received her dual master’s degree in journalism and international relations from New York University and her bachelor’s from Cornell University and in 2016 was a grant recipient of the International Women’s Media Foundation. She will always be a Californian. @mollymotoole

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